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A Short Visit to Kiawah Island (and Seabrook too)

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

Nov. 14, 2016 — Your editor went on a golfing junket to Kiawah Island in South Carolina’s Low Country recently, and here is our report on what it might be like to retire here. When added together with Judith’s report on her SC visit and our recent “10 Best Places to Retire in SC” article (see bottom for links to those), we’ve given Topretirements Members a pretty good dose of South Carolina retirement information lately. So coming up we will move on to other areas.

This was our first visit here to this island, a stretch of coast just south of Charleston it shares with Seabrook Island. To get a picture of where it is, it’s a little more than half way down SC’s coast, with Myrtle Beach at the top and Beaufort and Hilton Head Island at the bottom. Rivers and wetlands occupy much of the space. Someone asked on one of our SC articles if flooding is a problem here, and the answer is definitely YES, they don’t call it the Low Country for nothing. New homes must be built quite high off the ground to protect against flooding and tidal surges.

There are some places to retire along this stretch of South Carolina’s Atlantic Ocean frontage, but not that many. Around Charleston there is Mount Pleasant and the Isle of Palms. But after you go south from Kiawah there is a fairly empty stretch of coast until you get to Beaufort and Port Royal.

The beach. Photo courtesy of John Pringle
The beach. Photo courtesy of John Pringle

The road going to the island is a picturesque Canopy Road – Live Oaks drape the roadway and Spanish Moss dangle from the branches. Kiawah Island is beautiful, and very exclusive. Unless you are staying there or have a reservation at one of the few restaurants, you won’t be getting past the gate (and there are more than one). Fortunately we did have a place to stay. Kiawah is beautiful.

There are palms and tropical plants. Plus 10 miles of beautiful sand beaches set along modest sized dunes (which were beat up by storms in recent years, including Hurricane Matthew).

Plenty of golf at Kiawah. Photo: John Pringle
Plenty of golf at Kiawah. Photo: John Pringle

Golf is a top priority here
There are 5 resort courses including the famous Ocean Course, home of the 1991 Ryder Cup and 2012 PGA Championship. There are also 2 private golf courses. Not that there aren’t other things to do, including 10 miles of perfect beach. There are many tennis courts and biking as well. But the overall focus is this is a place for golfers. There are some restaurants and some convenience shopping, but you need to go off the Island for most needs, including medical.

Home on the beach
Luxury home on the beach (John Pringle)

Where to Live (Have a big checkbook)
Along the ocean there is a wall of over the top mansions. Some are so large they look like hotels, edifices we assume are owned by hedge fund managers or the like. There are slightly more normal-sized homes set back from the water, although they are plenty expensive too. The more modest housing choices here are homes set along the golf courses with golf or pond views, or condos and townhomes. Searching online listings we found one small 3 BR, 2 bath home for sale for $136,000 (reduced), but homes over $10 million are available. Condos and townhomes tend not to be lower than the $200s and go over $1,000,000. The Sanctuary is a huge luxury hotel resort complex on the Island.

We got the impression that most of the homes on Kiawah are vacation or weekend homes. During the week in November not many were occupied. There are some retirees here, no doubt, but they are probably a minority clustered in homes along the golf courses.

Seabrook – a more reasonable choice
We talked to some folks who have had homes here as well as our own Florence, who has experience with Seabrook. The community is gated and like Kiawah, you can’t get in unless you are staying there. Here is what Sue said in a Comment to Florence’s article (about our avowed intention to visit Kiawah):

….Come back, you missed a jewel! Seabrook Island SC. adjacent to Kiawah Island. Seabrook is a gorgeous island right on the Atlantic next to more well known/pricey Kiawah, which is all about golf. Seabrook, the less pricey cousin, has golf but so much more. There is a beautiful lake house with outdoor & indoor pool. It also includes a well equipped gym, library, spaces for meetings/ hobbies & classes like yoga and tai chi. There are personal trainers and an on-site massage therapist. What else? A full equestrian center where you can ride in the marshes and on the beach! A wonderful tennis center that hosts major SE tournaments. Ocean side dining while watching the dolphins! Over 100 clubs and organizations: painting, photography, nature conservancy. Field trips of every genre, cooking and book clubs, bird watching, dog lover groups and numerous opportunities to give back through Habitat, After school and healthcare groups that focus on giving back. I bought a marsh side condo and can’t wait to be there full time! Great rental income in the meantime! Check out Seabrook!

To which Florence added:
Seabrook Island. It is beautiful with lots of great activities. What isn’t mentioned though is that property owners are required to join the “club” with initiation fees, monthly dues and dining minimums. There is also some dissension between property owners (mostly non-residents) and the POA board. Flood insurance is required for most properties. I’d be interested in what the flood insurance is.

Bottom line
In general Kiawah Island is a great retirement spot if you love golf, ocean beaches and are very well off. Seabrook Island is a little less formal and has great community amenities in addition to golf. Both of them are quite restricted and over a half hour from shopping and outside restaurants.

Both communities are relatively inaccessible to people who might want to just drop by and check things out. In light of that we plan a future article with how-to strategies to tour gated communities.

Could you live in a resort environment like Kiawah or Seabrook? Do you have experience living in this area? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

For further reading
Judith Reports on Her 2 Week Tour of South Carolina (33 Comments!)
10 Best Places to Retire in South Carolina

Posted by Admin on November 14th, 2016


  1. Thanks Mr. Editor for including me in your blog topic. I am still interested in finding out about flood insurance on Seabrook. It is possibly the major deterrent for purchasing there. Any info would be helpful.
    Although this might have changed, on a trip to visit Kiawah about a year ago, I was able to access the island by telling the gate staff that I was going to the Sanctuary for lunch. No reservations necessary.

    by Florence — November 15, 2016

  2. There is a shopping center adjacent to both Kiawah and Seabrook. It contains a Harris Teeter supermarket, a bank, drugstore, upscale specialty stores, Dr.s offices and numerous restaurants. There are also restaurants and shops in the Bohicket Marina on Seabrook Island which are open to the public. There are a lot of dining opportunities in the vicinity. There are numerous restaurants on Kiawah which are open to the public ranging from takeout to Super Upscale. The road from Kiawah to Charleston across Johns Island contains tons of dining options.

    by Staci — November 16, 2016

  3. My family has been going to Kiawah for over 20 years. I have stayed on Kiawah in the “off season” and even though the beaches are stunning year round, it can be very isolated. I am guessing that the number of full time residents is low. Summer rentals are high. Since most are houses, no high rise condos, it is not crowded like you would experience on Hilton Head Island. It is however, very exclusive and we have experienced some pretentiousness to say the least. The clubs are private and decorum is insisted upon. As with other spots we visited, the early boomers with lots of cash “up sized” when they built their retirement homes. There are now bargains to be had on houses 4000 square ft and above. Finding a smaller house is a challenge. Kiawah has an exceptional master plan and is environmentally conscientious.

    by Mary — November 16, 2016

  4. Not sure who is suggesting that the POA Board has ongoing disputes with property owners. Like any community, there are a few ‘outliers’, but the vast majority are quite pleased with the island’s governance and administrative staff. The POA is in excellent financial condition even following significant expenses in cleaning up following hurricane Matthew.

    by Janet Gorski — November 18, 2016

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